But what the heck, he thought, let's try to fix things up. He borrowed three
hundred dollars from a friend and invested it all - in cigarettes... Due to
astronomical tobacco taxes, cigarettes are incredibly expensive in Sweden, so Per
could easily make up for the poker gamble by selling Phillip Morris and
Marlboros to his smoking friends on campus back home. The drawback of this plan
was that it wasn't entirely legal, but since Swedish customs hardly ever check
anyone, Per figured he'd be OK. And perhaps he would have been - had he gotten
that far. He arrived at the ferry at the last second, since he had spent so
much time at the black market - while his friends were enjoying the paintings
at the Hermitage - and the ship was about to depart. Being the very last
passenger entering, he was met by an army of idle Russian customs personnel, who
were all very curious as to what he was carrying in his giant duffle bag.
To make a long story short, canned sardines became the main course for Per for
the rest of that semester...
I said it was a cold spring day, and in fact it was starting to snow
lightly, so I had all my warmest clothing on while warming up,
although I would have to run in shorts for the race. When the time
finally arrived, the starting judge called "Runners to your marks",
and I removed my sweats and began taking my place at that starting
line. My crush, giggling, asked, "Are you going to run in that?",
whereupon I looked down to find that along with my sweats, I had also
removed my shorts. So in front of my crush, and the entire crowd in
the stands, I was in my "tighty-whities", as they say. No one other
than my crush really noticed, however, until the starting judge called
"Get Set!", and I called back "WAIT!". Then every head in the arena
I ran to the side of the track and tried in vain to get my shorts back
on, but my spiked shoes (used for sprinting) got caught as I stepped
into my shorts, and as I hopped embarrassingly from side to side, I
heard the competing runners on the track snickering. The starting
judge was openly pointing at me and laughing. Eventually, I managed
to put on my shorts, and I retook my starting position. The girl
holding my blocks continued to giggle behind me as the race began.
The one mitigating detail of the whole experience was that our team
one the race, perhaps as a result of sheer embarrassment on my behalf.
And being from a small town (Rangely) in Colorado, everyone in town
knew before I had even arrived home. The nickname "Streak" held for
THE FLYING BOOT (Max 1978, 9+9=18 points)
One of Max' many bad habits involved removing his winter boots by kicking hard into the air
until they came off, despite numerous warnings from Mom.
One winter day when he came home from school, he did this in the kitchen.
His right boot came off with unusually high speed, and Max watched with astonishment as
it followed a beautiful parabolic trajectory up through the air, towards the
kitchen window and out through the window - which was closed.
Jury's comment: an extra point was awarded for the time factor - that special interval between the moment when Max realized what would happen and when the boot finally passed through the two panes of glass.
THE WRONG DAY (Mom 1987, 10+8=18 points)
It is just before Christmas 1987, and Mom is already the clear favorite for the
annual award after her EXPLOSIVE JAM. But why leave it at that?
She is in Grandma's apartment in New York on a Friday evening with Per and
Dad, and dad asks her what time her flight back to Sweden is. "It's tomorrow
at - hmm, let me check the exact time." She pulls out the ticket. "But how
strange - why does it say Friday here instead of Saturday?"
Net result: she had to buy a new last-second ticket for $600.
THE SHORT WAVE RADIO (Max 1988, 9+9=18 points)
In the mid eighties, Mom got a serious rival: not a woman, but a short wave
radio. A really nice and expensive one. It and Dad would spend hours together in the
evenings, and soft words in exotic languages could be heard from the
bedroom long after the house had quieted down. Due to numerous burglaries
in the neighborhood, we would habitually hide valuables in the attic over
Christmas while we were in Leksand. The Christmas of 1988(?), Dad was in
Israel, so Max decided to help him by hiding his beloved radio for him. So he
hid it. He hid it well. Very well. A year later, he still hadn't managed to find
Note: After another year, some people tried to downplay Max' achievement by insinuating that he had never hidden the radio in the first place. Maybe it got stolen? Then the summer of 1990, before leaving for Berkeley, Max spends an entire week cleaning up the attic. In the end, almost all that remains is an inconspicuous plastic bag. "Hmm. Wonder what this is?" It contains an upside down plastic bag. And it contains...
THE STONED JOGGER (Per 1991, 8+9=17 points)
Is it humanly possible to run straight into a rock while jogging on a track
where you have run more than a hundred times previously? This question was
answered with a roaring yes by Per one autumn evening in Judarnskogen, to
the astonishment of his friend Stefan Sellberg, who could hardly believe what
he saw: "Vad fan gšr du, Per?" Per banged his knee so badly that his training
was obliterated for over a month.
Jury's comment: The extreme originality, confirmed by the witness, surpassing the limits for just how clumsy it is humanly possible to be, makes this worth nine points for style.
BENGT'S BOOM BOX (Per 1992, 7+10=17 points)
MR. SPEEDO (Max 1994, 7+10=17 points)
Just back to Berkeley after celebrating Christmas in Sweden, Max went for a swim
at the RSF pool. Backstroking under a clear blue January sky, he thought to himself
"it's good to be back!". Shortly thereafter, he found
himself staring into an empty locker. It appeared as though someone had stolen
EVERYTHING: not just cash, credit cards and ID, but even his clothes,
which led to numerous humorous
scenes. Like when he was rummaging through the garbage cans
outside the gym, wearing only his swim suit, and a bunch
of highschool girls started cheering and whistling from a window.
Or when he walked back to his dorm in this state, and a beggar
nonetheless asked if he could spare some change.
Or when he had to stand in line in I-House to get a new dorm room
key, and the many new arrivals ahead of him in the queue
gave him startled looks, probably thinking "so mom WAS right
about this place Berkeley after all..." or "is this that
'Naked Guy' I saw on TV?". It would take a long time until Max' friends
stopped calling him Mr. Speedo.
Max spent an hour on the phone canceling his credit cards. To his horror, he realized that he'd lost something even more important. While in Sweden, he had withdrawn his life savings and purchased a cashier's check in US dollars (about $20k), with the intent of investing this into the startup company he was involved in (which ended up collapsing anyway - but that's another story). When he'd asked the Swedish bank clerk what would happen if he lost it, she'd replied "don't". Well aware that this was the most valuable item he'd ever carried, he'd hidden it in his backpack and taken great precautions during the transatlantic journey. However, he'd forgotten to remove it before going swimming the next morning...
But something didn't make sense. Why would a thief remove his clothes? Could he have confused the lockers? Max returned to the gym and verified that his lock wasn't on any of the lockers. However, a locker roughly where he remembered putting his stuff had a lock on it, and after some bending and peering, he thought he could see his backpack and bike helmet in it! The RSF staff refused to cut the lock until closing time, so Max got some pizza and staked out the locker for four hours. Perhaps a clever thief would replace the lock and then return later in the day to safely harvest his goods after the owner had left? Closing time came, the lock was cut, and Max found all his belongings the way he'd left them, including the canceled credit cards. And his own combination lock was still in the backback! Someone must have forgotten their open combination lock on the bench, so that Max absent-mindedly snapped it onto his locker.
WELCOME TO PRAGUE (Per 1990, 7+10=17 points)
Per went to Prague with his classmates on a school trip.
Despite warnings, he decided to change money on the black market.
After some negotiating with a dubious-looking character near the
railway station, he was offered an exchange that he felt was so impressive
that he went ahead and traded in a full $50 - this was lots of money in
Czechoslovakia shortly after the collapse of communism.
Per's friends remained suspicious, and they watched with interest as Per tried
to buy something from a street vendor with his newly acquired bills.
As the vendor kept shaking his head and repeating something in Czech that
nobody understood, they started laughing. Per got increasingly flustered, and kept asking the
vendor what the problem was. In a final attempt to explain, the vendor
took Per's money, through it on the ground and started jumping on it.
At this point, Per's friends were almost dying of laughter. Per was not - it turned out
that his bills were antiquated and worth only the paper they were printed on.
THE ART OF SKIDDING (Max 1987, 9+8=17 points)
PARIS MUGGING (Max 1998, 10+6=16 points)
Max and Angelica were mugged by a guy with a (quite small) knife on the Paris subway
(RER C), en route to Versailles. The goof consisted of making three mistakes:
(1) Not moving to a more crowded car when they became alone.
(2) Carrying an insane amount of cash (Max lost $600, Angelica $200).
(3) Max tried to flip out only the French money from his wallet, but the
entire contents fell onto the seat.
Unfortunately, some points were lost because it was in the middle of the day in a place that many
people thought was safe.
PRINCETON WALLET (Dad 1997, 9+6=15 points)
Dad mysteriously lost his wallet in Princeton in April
1997, and intense search efforts by the entire family
failed to locate it.
Among other things, it contained $400 worth of cash.
Note: Five years later, Mom found it zipped into a "secret'' compartment of Dad's backpack! Dad argues that this should boost his score, since anyone can just lose a wallet....
LOST AND FOUND (Max 1997, 5+10=15 points)
Max lost his glasses at some point after the IAS soccer game, and couldn't
find them despite a thorough and time-consuming search. He even drove the
car to the soccer field at night and searched in the beams of the headlights.
Per, Angelica, Karin Tegmark and Mats Wisell teased him. The next day, he
biked to the soccer field and searched the path and the field again for quite a
while. He finally gave up, biked homeward and - CRASH - ran over his
glasses. Unfortunately for Max' score, they could be repaired for as little as $80.
VAGONKA (Per 1996, 10+5=15 points)
HAPPY NEW YEAR (Per 1987, 7+8=15 points)
INTERRAIL (Per 1989, 10+5=15 points)
ROYAL EMBARRASSMENT (Per 1989, 5+9=14 points)
BUJIGANGA (Max 1998, 6+8=14 points)
Angelica was very fond of the Mother of all Trinkets (or Bujigangas, as the
Brazilians call them), purchased for about
$80. It was a large glass bowl full of fragrant wood carvings, held in a cast-
iron stand. A picture frame with family photos was hanging above it in their
apartment on 81 Merritt Lane in Princeton. Max was quite stressed about finding
something, and as Angelica looked on, he slammed the sliding closet door
open. Causing the painting to disconnect from the wall and fall onto the bowl,
shattering it and spreading glass and wood carvings all over the floor.
As an extra bonus, Max then proceeded to drop his $3000 laptop on the floor
- but it unfortunately survived.
DISAPPEARING ACT (Max 1971, 4+7=13 points)
At the ripe old age of 4, Max disappeared. Mom was flying from Sweden to the US alone
with him and newborn Per, and had to change planes at London Heathrow.
As boarding began for the US flight, Max had vanished into thin air. Mom frenetically
hurried around looking for him, which was easier said than done
given Per and the carry on baggage, but to no avail. Time was running out.
In desperation, Mom looked in the Men's room, where her lost son greeted her
with a cheerful "tittut!", Swedish for peek-a-boo.
Disappearing turned out to be a bit of a Max specialty: two years later, he did it again. This time, he was returning home from daycare by subway together with his classmate Ola Hansson and his mom Kerstin, who had promised to bring him to the Östermalmstorg station where Mom was waiting. She waited and waited, but none of the three were to be seen. Finally, after about an hour, she heard a message from the loudspeakers, broadcast over the entire Stockholm subway network, announcing that Max had gone missing! While en route from Brommaplan station to downtown, I had been engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: spinning around the vertical column in the center of the car. Somewhat dizzy, I lost my bearings and went to the wrong side of the car when I was finished, and concluded that Ola and his Mom had gotten off the train. Remembering Ola having told me something about going to the dentist, this seemed perfectly natural. Continuing my 6 year old logic, I figured that the best thing to do would be to go home, since once Mom had given up looking for me, that's where she'd go too. Said and done: as soon as the doors opened at T-Centralen, the station where we'd always change, I got off, and Ola and his Mom saw me disappear into the crowd from the other end of the car. The train to Ropsten was conveniently boarding across the platform, so I hurried aboard before the doors closed. Once in Ropsten, I had to wait forever for my bus, and didn't pay much attention to what they were saying over the loudspeakers. At last, my bus arrived, and I got in line remembering that people under seven rode for free. Just before I got on the bus, someone came rushing out of the station at top speed, looking very strange: Mom!
Guest goofs submitted
YOU'RE NOT RICHARD ELLIS?
Matthew Kenworthy, email@example.com
A true astronomy story: I was a new graduate student at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, and the tradition there is to go around and talk with potential graduate advisors before deciding on a suitable line of research. This was around 1995, so the hot topics were gravitational lensing, black holes and all things extragalactic. At the top of my list was Richard Ellis, so off I went to find his office. Walking down the corridor, I knocked on the professor's door and was told to come in. Seeing that I was a new student, he told the person on the other end of the phone line that "a new student has come in, I'll speak to you later" and hung up the phone with a smile. Feeling nervous about interrupting what sounded like an important phone call, I sat down in the chair he indicated to and after I introduced myself I began to talk about my interests. As the professor nodded encouragingly, my eyes wandered over the numerous bookshelves and awards amongst the plant pots. By this time I'd been chatting for over a quarter hour, and the professor hadn't said anything. My eyes began to drift around the room, and I noticed that there were no books on gravitational lensing - which I thought was odd. I stopped talking as the gnawing doubt in my mind turned into full-blown terror. "You're not Richard Ellis, are you?" I asked nervously. "No, I'm not Richard, no. He's in the office across the corridor." he replied with a sad smile. I made profuse apologies, and scuttled away to the door, two inches tall. Just before I left, I asked "Um, so who have I been talking to, exactly?" The professor shook my hand with a smile and introduced himself. "Oh, my name's Martin. Martin Rees. Always a pleasure to meet the new students!" I decided to go into astronomical instrumentation after that.
Editorial note for non-astronomers: Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, is one of the world's most famous astrophysicists.
THE CHICKEN DROP
David Rusin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Each spring at my college, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) sponsored an egg drop contest. The goal was to build a contraption that would allow an egg to survive being dropped off the roof of the library (about three stories high). During my senior year, I was helping run the contest along with the president of the SPS (Ana), and my friend John, who worked at the library. We collected the entries from the contestants and brought them up to the roof. Most of the entries were rather commonplace in their design, but one did catch our attention. A pair of Russian twins handed us a closed shoebox, told us not to open it until we got to the roof, and then simply dump the contents out. Once on the roof, we opened the box and were surprised to find a live chicken inside. This chicken had clearly seen better days, and had probably been kept in that box for way too long. Though this entry was certainly unorthodox, and none of us had ever seen a chicken fly before, the three of us convinced ourselves that the chicken could at least manage to "glide" safely to the ground. And besides, what better way to end the contest than for a chicken -- nature's perfect egg holder -- to triumphantly swoop down in front of the waiting contestants. After some careful thought, we decided to go for it, and John promptly heaved the chicken off the roof. Well, to make a long story short, the chicken dropped like a bomb. It hit the ground with a thud, got up and walked around for a few seconds, then dropped dead. The crowd of twenty or so people were in shock. "What the hell are you doing?" someone yelled. News spread quickly through campus that chickens were being killed, and more people began to gather. The scene was made all the worse by the fact that the previous entry had used red jelly to suspend their egg, which splattered into a giant red mess on the ground. Needless to say, many people suspected that the method of execution had been far more horrible. The three of us snuck out the back, and I recall hiding in my dorm room for the next week or so.
Lesson learned: Chickens don't fly. (However, the Russian twins insisted that we had just "thrown it wrong.")
Consequences: A special edition of the school paper was published with the headline "Egg Drop Contest Ends in Tragedy". The contest did not take place the following year. The twins went back to Russia and were never heard from again. Ana was not re-elected president of the college environmental club. and the author went on to a career in science. Nobody knows what happened to the chicken, though we suspect it turned into soup that night.
Editorial note: David Rusin was my 1st grad student, refueling the nature vs nurture debate.
Aaron Parsons, email@example.com
I ran track in high school, and being being of short stature (allowing for good acceleration and cornering), I often ran the first leg of a 4x100m relay. One cold spring day in Colorado, shortly before this race was to begin at a conference track meet, I summoned up the nerve to ask a crush of mine--a cute girl on my team--to hold my starting blocks for me. Her job (which she accepted), was to stand behind me and ensure that my blocks did not move when I pushed off them at the start of the race.
Steve Bradt, firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's a goof for you, courtesy of one of our pets. Allegra was sitting downstairs in our loft-type apartment one Friday morning eating breakfast (I had already left for work). Meanwhile our cat, Mr. Bean, was upstairs performing his daily flip-out: Every morning around 7:45 he flies around the apartment at top speed, literally banking sideways along walls and furniture. Suddenly, as if in slow-motion (as she reports it), Allegra watched Mr. Bean go sailing over the balcony above her head and land directly on top of ... a cactus. And not just any itty-bitty cactus -- this one was a foot in diameter with many sharp, inch-long quills. Mr. Bean's timing could not have been worse in that it was June (wedding and graduation season!) and we were supposed to attend three out-of-town events in the following 48 hours: my brother's graduation that night, my cousin's wedding the following day, and some friends' wedding the day after that. Needless to say, once he was discharged from the vet that afternoon Mr. Bean required pretty much constant care, so we had to do the events in shifts -- I went to the graduation and first wedding, then drove back to Philly as Allegra was driving north to hit the second wedding. I guess my absence at that wedding made me and Mr. Bean celebrities: it was a small event and it somehow got announced that a guest was unable to attend because his cat had fallen on a cactus. I subsequently met someone who had been at that wedding and they gave a knowing nod and said, "You're the one whose cat fell on the cactus, right?" To this day Mr. Bean also retains a great degree of notoriety at his veterinarian's office, which had never seen an animal tangle with a cactus in quite that way. The vet bills came to several hundred dollars.
Mats Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden, email@example.com, reported Jan 15 2004
My parents had a cat called Mia. As cats habitually do, she got in fights with other cats regarding territory. She was no wimpy, regularly pulling home rabbits almost as big as herself, wanting us to help her out with the actual kill; my brother once witnessed her chasing a fox down the street, which makes it all the more interesting that on this particular occasion, she was chased around my parent's lawn by another cat. This other cat, apparently, had a very hazy idea about the physical layout of my parent's lawn. Mia ran up to a low, circular fence - about 4 inches high, some 15 feet in diameter - and started running alongside it. The other cat looked a bit puzzled at this, since the fence posed no obstacle to a reasonably fit cat, or even a very unfit cat, but decided to take the short-cut and jumped over the fence. Down into the swimming pool.
According to eyewitnesses, there was a scream such as they had never heard from a living creature before, and the newcomer cat appeared to only toch the water with its claws as it actually ran across the pool (causing some religious debate later), never to return.
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I said it was a cold spring day, and in fact it was starting to snow lightly, so I had all my warmest clothing on while warming up, although I would have to run in shorts for the race. When the time finally arrived, the starting judge called "Runners to your marks", and I removed my sweats and began taking my place at that starting line. My crush, giggling, asked, "Are you going to run in that?", whereupon I looked down to find that along with my sweats, I had also removed my shorts. So in front of my crush, and the entire crowd in the stands, I was in my "tighty-whities", as they say. No one other than my crush really noticed, however, until the starting judge called "Get Set!", and I called back "WAIT!". Then every head in the arena turned.
I ran to the side of the track and tried in vain to get my shorts back on, but my spiked shoes (used for sprinting) got caught as I stepped into my shorts, and as I hopped embarrassingly from side to side, I heard the competing runners on the track snickering. The starting judge was openly pointing at me and laughing. Eventually, I managed to put on my shorts, and I retook my starting position. The girl holding my blocks continued to giggle behind me as the race began. The one mitigating detail of the whole experience was that our team one the race, perhaps as a result of sheer embarrassment on my behalf.
And being from a small town (Rangely) in Colorado, everyone in town
knew before I had even arrived home. The nickname "Streak" held for